The best thing about Rio de Janeiro is its people. The cariocas have an unique way of making you feel welcome. They always treat you like an old friend, even if you’ve just met them while sunbathing on Ipanema’s hot sand.
These lively and cheerful people form the most common picture of Brazil in foreigners’ collective imagination. As a journalist, I have done my share of traveling the world, and every time I tell someone I’m from Brazil, the question comes quickly: Are you from Rio?
Well, I’m not from Rio; however, I’m married to a carioca. He was born and raised in Rio, and through him, I’ve experienced a Rio de Janeiro that goes far beyond what a tourist guide can show you. I will share with you the inside scoop of a hidden Rio de Janeiro that the cariocas do not want the tourists to discover.
- Rio de Janeiro’s Hidden Beach: Prainha
Prainha is the favorite local beach of Rio surfers. Good waves are almost guaranteed, and the beach’s natural beauty is completely preserved, since it is an “ecological park” protected by the city. This hidden beach, with 700 meters of white sand bordered by the hilly landscape of the Atlantic Forest, offers pure bliss. The Prainha is wonderful for surfers and even better for kids, because it has a natural swimming pool where children can play all day. Prainha’s natural beauty is exceptional. Prepare to spend the day there, and enjoy snacks from local beach shacks, which serve homemade sandwiches, fresh juices, and açai bowls.
- Hike to the Sugarloaf: The Claudio Coutinho Trail
You do not need to be an athlete to hike to one of the most famous sights in the world: the iconic Sugarloaf. While the tourists flock to the cable-car lines to embark to the top of the Sugarloaf, the locals walk quietly through the Claudio Coutinho trail until they reach the first summit, called Morro da Urca. The trail starts at Praia Vermelha and offers an easy boardwalk with an view of the Atlantic Forest on one side and the ocean on the other. The trail becomes more difficult when you pass the sidewalk part and enter the forest; from here, it takes 30 minutes to reach the summit of Morro da Urca. From there to the top of Sugarloaf, you will need some climbing equipment — or you can take the cable car at the Morro da Urca station, where there are no queues to board.
- The Best Views of the City: Tour the Favelas
Rio has more than 1,000 favelas, and these neighborhoods are an essential part of the city culturally and economically. At first, I really did not like the idea of treating people’s lives as a tourist attraction, but I realized that those tours bring attention to the community and generate income for local businesses. The “Favela Tour,” operated by Marcelo Armstrong, a pioneer in the business, donates a portion of its proceeds to an after-school program. When you walk through the favelas’ narrow alleys, you feel a great part of Rio’s “good vibes” coming from these hills. The energy is undeniable; you can always hear some music playing in the background, and the view of Rio de Janeiro from the top of a favela is absolutely stunning — one of the best in town.
- The Brazilian Club, Buena Vista Version: Gafieira Estudantina
This is the most traditional ballroom dance club in Rio de Janeiro. Founded in 1928 by a law student (hence the name Estudantina), this was the club where bohemians and intellectuals gathered to hear a new type of Brazilian music gaining popularity at the time: samba.
More than eight decades have passed, and today samba is embedded in the soul of all Brazilians. However, do not go to Gafieira Estudantina expecting to find women dancing in bikinis; this traditional dance hall will remind you more of the ambiance in the movie “Buena Vista Social Club”. Gafieira means “samba club”.
On Tuesday nights, considered the best night for locals, you can find folks waltzing. You’ll see men wearing white pants, silk shirts, two-tone shoes, and Panama hats, with scarves on hand to wipe their foreheads while dancing. High up on the wall hang the “Gafieira Statutes,” warning that kissing and touching are not allowed in the ballroom.
- Unique Northeast Fair in Rio de Janeiro: Feira de São Cristovão
The São Cristovao Fair is an “off the beaten path” experience in Rio that you either love or leave. The fair is an unusual setting for the most Brazilians; the market theme is the culture, folklore, and customs of the northeast region of Brazil. Founded by immigrants from this part of the country who moved to Rio in search of better opportunities, this is a lively fair without any luxury or refinement, but with a lot of music, local food, and crafts. The fair takes place inside an old soccer stadium, where you’ll find 700 stalls with bars, restaurants, shops, beauty parlors, dance floors, and two big stages with lively music and folk dance. As soon as you arrive, you will sense a real party atmosphere.
SURF AT PRAINHA – Rio de Janeiro